Physical distancing protocols inadequate to protect lower-income groups: Study

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on November 08, 2020 Published on November 08, 2020

A new study carried by the researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health revealed that social distancing protocols had little effect on lower-income group people.

The study also noted that this is due to the need to work to make ends meet. However, they stayed at home when they could.

The findings of the study were published in the journal EurekAlert!

Study lead author Dr. Jonathan Jay, assistant professor of community health sciences at BUSPH said: "If lower-income people were simply ignoring the trend towards physical distancing, we would have expected them to continue going to places like supermarkets, liquor stores, and parks at the same rates as before. Instead, their visits dropped at almost the same rates as the very highest-income group."

"This indicates that lower-income people were just as aware and motivated as higher-income people to protect themselves from COVID-19, but simply couldn't stay home as much because they needed to go to work," he said.

The researchers used anonymized mobility data collected from smartphones in over 210,000 neighborhoods (census block groups) across the country, each neighborhood categorized by average income.

They tried to figure out whether people from these neighborhoods stayed home, left home, and appeared to be at work--staying at another location for at least three hours during typical working hours, or making multiple stops that looked like delivery work.

The researchers also tracked movement to "points of interest": beer, wine, and liquor stores; carryout restaurants; convenience stores; hospitals; parks and playgrounds; places of worship; and supermarkets.

Study co-author Dr. Jacob Bor, assistant professor of global health and epidemiology at BUSPH said: "The difference in a physical distancing between low- and high-income neighborhoods during the lockdown was just staggering."

He added: "While people in high-income neighborhoods retreated to home offices, people in low-income neighborhoods had to continue to go to work--and their friends, family, and neighbors had to do the same. Living in a low-income neighborhood is likely a key risk factor for COVID-19 infection."

They found that the dramatic decline in mobility early in March had little to do with state policy, following similar patterns in different states regardless of when their orders went into effect.

When state policies did go into effect, they modestly decreased mobility further--but did nothing to close the gap between low- and high-income neighborhoods.

Jay added: "We found strong evidence of compliance among the people who are most economically marginalized, which because of structural racism disproportionately includes people of color. As the pandemic has played out, the evidence of poor safety practices at the very highest levels of power has become clearer.”

"Still, it's deeply troubling that throughout the pandemic, staying home has been a choice for some people and not for others," he further noted.

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Published on November 08, 2020
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